On this day in Japan 88 years ago, Sada Abe, a former prostitute and geisha, murdered her lover, Kichizo Ishida, before chopping off his penis and testicles. She then carried them around with her in her handbag. Arrested a few days later, Abe, remarkably, served just five years in prison. 

Who Was Sada Abe?

Sada Abe was born into a family of relatively well-off tatami makers in Tokyo’s Kanda neighborhood in 1905. She was one of eight children (only four of whom survived until adulthood) and was often sent out of the house alone as a child. In her mid-teens, Abe was raped by a Keio University student. Following that traumatic event, she became increasingly rebellious.

Her parents, who initially supported her after the attack, sold the then-17-year-old to an okiya (geisha house) in Yokohama in 1922. Abe was initially pleased with her new surroundings. As a child, she’d taken singing and shamisen lessons, so she felt she was ready for the geisha world. The beautiful costumes made her feel glamorous.

However, her happiness soon began to fade. She felt disenchanted as she realized she would never be a top-ranked geisha. Customers also demanded sex from her, and the teahouse she worked at didn’t object. After contracting syphilis, she decided to quit, becoming a shogi (licensed prostitute) instead. 

Meeting Kichizo Ishida

In 1934, Abe was arrested for unlicensed prostitution. Kinnosuke Kasahara, a regular customer at the brothel she previously worked at, bailed her out. She became his mistress — until her demands became too much for him.

Speaking at her court case a couple of years later, Kasahara said, “She wasn’t satisfied unless we did it two, three, or four times a night. To her, it was unacceptable unless I had my hand on her private parts all night long… At first it was great, but after a couple of weeks I got a little exhausted.” He also described her as a “woman whom men should fear.”  

After finishing with Kasahara, Abe had a string of other lovers, including Goro Omiya, a professor and banker with political aspirations (though his association with Abe would eventually destroy any possibility of becoming an elected official). He promised to help her leave the sex industry and buy a restaurant for her to run.

Before that, though, he suggested she work as an apprentice in the restaurant business. So that’s what she did, helping at an establishment called the Yoshidaya in Tokyo. Despite being officially owned by Kichizo Ishida, it was primarily run by his wife. Known as a womanizer, it wasn’t long before Ishida began seducing Abe.  

Killer Geisha Sada Abe

The Murder of Kichizo Ishida

On April 23, 1936, the pair met at a teahouse in Shibuya. They reportedly stayed in bed for four days and continued with their frantic lovemaking even when maids entered the room to serve them drinks. Abe became increasingly infatuated with Ishida as they hooked up at different places.

When he eventually returned to his wife on May 8, the former geisha turned to alcohol. She couldn’t bear the thought of this man that she was obsessed with being with another woman, even if it was his wife.  

On May 9, Abe watched a play in which a geisha attacked her lover with a knife. Two days later, she bought one of her own and threatened to use it on Kishida. Rather than frighten him, it allegedly left him feeling aroused. On another occasion, she placed the knife at the base of his penis and told him she would make sure he would never play around with other women ever again. This apparently made him laugh.

Their sex sessions became increasingly extreme as they tried erotic asphyxiation on each other. She would use her obi to cut off his breathing during orgasm. Unable to control herself, Abe took her sash and strangled Kishida to death at around 2 a.m. on May 18, 1936. Whether she intended to kill him or not is up for debate, but she told the police she “felt a sense of clarity,” following his death. 

High-Profile Arrests in Japan

Anna Petek

The Arrest of Sada Abe

After lying with the corpse for a short time, Abe lacerated Ishida’s penis and testicles before using the blood to writeSada, Ishida no Kichi futari kiri,” (“Sada and Kichi Ishida, just the two of us”) on his thigh. She then placed his genitals, wrapped in paper, in her handbag, departed the lodging and casually did some shopping. She even had time to take in a movie. 

On May 19, she checked into a hotel in Shinagawa under a pseudonym. Planning on taking her own life, she spent the next day writing some farewell letters, had a massage and drank three bottles of beer. She also practiced necrophilia, attempting to have sex with the severed penis and putting it in her mouth. 

Abe planned to escape to Kansai, where she intended to jump from a cliff of Mount Ikoma with Ishida’s penis in her hand. However, the arrival of the police put paid to that idea. Officers arrived at the inn where she was staying at around 4 p.m. on May 20. “Don’t be so formal,” she reportedly told them. “You’re looking for Sada Abe, right? Well, that’s me.” 

They weren’t convinced, so she showed them Ishida’s severed genitals as evidence. During the interrogation, she was asked why she killed him. “I loved him so much, I wanted him all to myself,” was her response. “I knew that if I killed him, no other woman could ever touch him again, so I killed him,” she added.


The Sentencing and Release of Sada Abe

Abe was convicted of second-degree murder and the mutilation of a corpse. She was hoping for the death penalty, while the prosecution demanded 10 years. In the end, she was sentenced to six and was released within five. During her time in jail, she received around 10,000 fan letters and several marriage proposals. 

A celebrity in Japan, she assumed an alias upon release from prison. After her identity was publicly revealed, she was forced to break off a relationship with a man she referred to in her memoirs as “Y,” even though he’d already known about her past. Despite attempting to keep a low profile, Abe continued to attract lots of attention, even after World War II. 

In 1946, author Ango Sakaguchi interviewed her for a magazine, describing the former convict as a “tender, warm figure.” Released a year later and based on police interrogation records, Ichiro Kimura’s The Erotic Confessions of Abe Sada depicted her as a pervert. She responded with her autobiography, Memoirs of Sada Abe, emphasizing her love for Ishida. For a few years, Abe toured the country, appearing as herself in a one-act stage production. She then worked as a celebrity attraction at a bar in downtown Tokyo before disappearing from the public eye in the early 1970s. 

To date, at least six movies have been made based on her life, the most famous being Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses, which contains scenes of unsimulated sex and has never been shown uncensored in Japan. Oshima claimed he found Abe at a nunnery in Kansai, where it’s presumed she later died.

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